Sur La Table is a national cookware store that also offers cooking classes. Last month for our “date night” Jack and I attended a class in Scottsdale, Arizona, called “An Evening in Venice”. We were a fun group of people (16) as we worked side-by-side preparing dishes we would all get to taste. A diverse mix in age groups (leaning towards the younger side) with food as the common denominator, was led by our instructor. The couple we shared a work station with are newlyweds. They spoke of their dreams to visit Venice someday and asked if we’d ever been there. “On our 22nd wedding anniversary we shared a magical vacation with two especially memorable moments,” I volunteered. One involved an opera with Jack on stage, the other a gondola. I decided to tell the story involving the latter (perhaps sharing Jack’s singing debut at another time). “I’ve been to Venice before,” I continued, “but this was Jack’s first visit and I wanted him to experience a gondola ride. Saint Mark’s Square was completely empty, devoid of even their famous pigeons. The cold wet night was the reason, as this was the middle of winter. There had been so much rain that pallets had been stacked up (creating a bridge of sorts) all over Saint Mark’s flooded square so pedestrians could get around. We found a gondolier and just as he helped me in it started to rain … Jack opened the umbrella to shield us, and the serenade began. Meandering through the fog-filled canal was surreal (a bit like the scene from Phantom of the Opera). Nearly an hour had passed when all of a sudden I was filled with emotion and began to cry”. Scusi, senora, mi dispiace tanto! (Our soprano-singing gondolier thought I didn’t like his song choice). “It’s not the song, Jack interrupted his apology, the senora’s tears are happy tears … it had just begun to snow! I will always remember that magical moment … the gondola, the snow and MY GUY”.
Our menu for the evening consisted of this recipe for polenta squares, a risotto, (I prefer mine-Risi e Bisi) Seared Scallops, (my recipe is similar and includes a sauce) and a blood orange sorbet. I was excited about the sorbet but orange juice and raspberries were used in place of the Sicilian oranges (disappointed). Since Sicilians don’t really make polenta, (it’s a northern thing) I decided I’d try the Golden Polenta Squares.
The prosciutto coming out of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy is generally considered the best in the world. Paired in this simple dish with polenta that has been pan-fried in clarified butter and a fresh and vibrant pesto, the prosciutto’s savoriness and delicate sweetness are highlighted. You can easily substitute the parsley pesto with your favorite leafy herb.
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup polenta
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus more as needed)
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 cups Italian parsley, stems removed
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 scallions, (green onions) roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup clarified butter (see note below)
- 6 slices prosciutto, cut in half
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 200* and place a rack in the center
- In a deep pot, over medium-high heat, warm broth to a slow rolling boil. Slowly add in polenta, making sure to whisk it constantly to prevent lumps (this is the critical step, which my guy did perfectly).
- Continue stirring 20-30 minutes, until it pulls away from the sides and has thickened.
- Stir in the salt and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan (the other 1/4 cup is for the pesto).
- Pour into a buttered 9×13 glass dish, refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).
- While the polenta is cooling, make the pesto.
- In a blender or food processor, combine parsley, garlic, scallions and walnuts.
- Add lemon zest, lemon juice, remaining parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend all ingredients. Taste and add more olive oil and seasoning if necessary.
- Unmold the polenta onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the polenta into squares (this is 3×3).
- Clarified butter, also called ghee, has a higher smoke point (450*) than regular butter (350*). It’s used when you fry something over a high heat and you want the flavor of butter (rather than oil) in your food. Butter is made up of butterfat, milk solids and water. Clarified butter is the translucent golden-yellow butterfat leftover after the milk solids and water have been removed. Here’s how to make it: In a heavy-bottom saucepan, on low heat, melt a stick (or pound) of unsalted butter. Let the milk solids separate (foam on the surface is the butter’s water). Skim the foam and milk solids from the surface. Continue simmering and skimming until you have just the golden-yellow butterfat. You have just made clarified butter. (Sometimes I cheat and use half butter and half oil if I don’t have time to make clarified butter).
- In a saute pan, heat the clarified butter over medium-high heat. Place each polenta square into the butter, fry until golden brown (about 2 minutes). Flip the polenta, repeat on the other side.
To serve: Top each polenta square with a dollop of pesto and a half slice of prosciutto.
Spaghetti (Lady and the Tramp style)